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Through a 40-year career and interactions with many other “nice” industry leaders, it is my hypothesis that nice leaders are those who are sorted in their own mind about who they are-and the place they want to hold; not in society but in people’s hearts

It was a few years after I moved to Pune at the turn of the century. The Confederation of Indian Industry at its annual Pune event asked me to speak on the future of the technology industry and I did a twenty-minute session that even I felt rather pleased about. As I got off the podium, I felt a pat on the back and looked up to hear the first words I had ever exchanged with Rahul Bajaj. “Well said” were the words, a compliment I have treasured to this day.

Rahulbhai as he was affectionately called by most leaders from the political and business community in Pune was the epitome of grace, wisdom and generosity and there would hardly be a soul in this world who would have any criticism for the great man. “You can’t beat a Bajaj” was a line that entered our consciousness as professionals though for me personally, there was some resentment in the eighties, when my ambition to own a Bajaj Chetak led to much disappointment at the length of the waiting time and I had to settle for a rather downbeat Lambretta later. Today, seeing the values displayed by one and all in the Bajaj family—Madhur, Niraj, Rajiv, Sanjiv and Sunaina and the leaders in the various enterprises of the Bajaj Group, I could continue to sing paeans of praise for all, but it is suffice to say that Rahul Bajaj truly was a king among us and as just one of his loyal fans and admirers, I will miss him for a long time.

The title of this column is inspired by an old cliché, “It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice” and in twenty years in Pune, I have experienced this time and again. Having been part of the somewhat stratified societies of Mumbai, Delhi and London, where industrialists, politicians and executives were all separated by invisible but well-known demarcations, my eyes and heart were opened to new possibilities when fate and a career move brought me to Pune in 2001. With my wife still to extricate herself from Mumbai with the dual pressures of being a CEO in Zee Telefilms and completing her PhD from IIT Bombay, I was amazed at the ease with which the only two friends I knew from the past, the Kalyanis and Anu Aga opened their homes to me. In those months, I accompanied Anu to the homes of most of the rich and famous in Pune and made lifelong friendships that know no hierarchy and no class or community distinctions.

What is that makes cities like Pune so “nice”? I have a theory that this is because it is a veritable melting pot of the original settlers in the Peths and the Deccan area, the military and Parsi communities who made the Camp and Boat Club area their home and the later movers like us who made Pune East, from Yerwada to Wagholi the buzzing hub of new growth along with Hinjewadi on the other side of town. Except for a very small segment of Pune society who exhibit some insularity, most of the populace blend easily and have carried forward the less aggressive and non-confrontational spirit of the city. This magazine itself started by one of the most distinguished city educationists, army veteran Late Bala Sir and edited with distinction by Vinita is an exemplar of all that is good about the city and its culture.

Through a 40-year career and interactions with many other “nice” folks like John Chambers, Jeff Immelt, KK Nohria, KM Birla, Anand Mahindra and our tech industry leaders including N Chandra; it is my hypothesis that nice leaders are those who are sorted in their own mind about who they are and the place they want to hold; not in society but in people’s hearts.

When the spirit of trying to be over competitive in the process of building career legitimacy gives way to a feeling of “abundance” and one makes the transition to a desire for building a legacy, the willingness to create agency and comfort in others takes precedence over the desire to feel and act important. Seeking out such people and that includes leaders of the current generation like Meher Pudumjee, Sudhir Mehta and Vandana Chavan and learning to build a sense of collaboration with them and others who can make a difference will surely enable each of us to be happier human beings.

Finally, two other personal stories that illustrate the gentleman that the late Rahul Bajaj was and why he will always hold a special place in our hearts. The first was our invitation to him and many other luminaries of the city to grace our daughter Karuna’s wedding a few years ago. While some invitees from around the country and the world could not make it, every Pune friend including Rahul and Sanjiv Bajaj were there with us. And more recently when I asked to meet the great man, he willingly agreed and spent a very engaged 30 minutes asking about work and family. The only topic that was taboo, he warned me, were questions about his health! We will miss you greatly Rahulbhai, keep inspiring us on earth and transform every being where you are now.